Wednesday, July 7, 2021

The means to heaven. . .

When I was in Seminary, no less than Prof. Kurt Marquart first mentioned the work of Alexander Schmemann and his 1970 book For the Life of the World.  When I first read it, I found so much that I could resonate with and it has had a profound affect on the way I looked at my own Lutheran liturgical legacy.  Marquart's own life had been impacted by Orthodoxy in a more personal way.  I had not known much about Orthodoxy until I read of it in Seminary and had my first experience of the Divine Liturgy.  It was both foreign and familiar at the same time.  Though I am certainly not ready to surrender Western spirituality for the piety of Orthodoxy, it does not prevent a person from appreciating where they intersect.

It was Schememann who first taught me that liturgical acts are themselves means (media) that bring us to heaven. The consequence is that worship can never be mere personal preference or trend or fad.  With the liturgy uniting for a moment of preview heaven and earth in the Word that ushers in that future and the Sacrament that is the foretaste of it, liturgy cannot be adiaphora or anything indifferent. The medium of the liturgy is not simply a neutral form on which we hang what it is we desire but is itself both confession and proclamation.  Its power is that speaking within the Divine Service is the Word that does what it promises and the Sacrament that enacts what it symbolizes. 

One of the great fallacies of the modern liturgical movement is that it focused too much in liturgical form and architectural style the present moment -- the horizontal dimension.  With that focus, the real power and gift of the liturgy is lost.  For it is not simply an earthly community that is established but a heavenly communion into which we are entered by God's grace and favor.  Even where Latin became the vernacular and hymns entered into the service, the earlier liturgies never lost their focus on that which was beyond but accessible because Christ was present in His Word and Sacrament.  This immediacy of His presence was not the end but itself pointed to the outcome and goal of our salvation -- the perfect communion and reunion with God and the saints, angels and archangels, around His throne forever.

One of the great foibles of Lutheranism is the idea that we worship the way we do because it is traditional (we have a hymnal and that is what we use) and that it is possible to retain the content while not using the form.  We must recover why the hymnal and its liturgy (and the ceremonial that attends it) are important to the confession and profession of the faith.  We must dig deeper than the tradition of the last 50 or 100 or even 175 years in order to understand, recover, and restore our claim to be catholic in content and practice.  Melancthon understood this when the Augsburg Confession was written but we seem to have forgotten or no longer care that catholicity is our claim.  Worshiping like Lutherans means little if anything and everything can define what that worship is.  The only worshiping like Lutherans that means something is that which is consistent with and gives outward form to what we confess in our Symbols.  

By the way, adiaphora has become the rabbit hole into which every heresy, fallacy, and apostasy hides.  What was meant as a way out of the rigid central control of Rome has become the license to do whatever pastors and parishes please and with it the right to call that oddness Lutheran.  To be quite frank, I am over it.  Adiaphora had meaning when there was integrity to what happened on Sunday morning but given that the majority of LCMS folk worship in congregations that have contemporary worship as at least an option violates whatever usefulness the term once had.

Lastly, the fear was that the liturgical movement would make every denomination look the same on Sunday morning.  What has accomplished this far more effectively is evangelical style contemporary worship.  It seems the whole of Protestantism has given into an entertainment style service in which technology has become one of the primary sacraments and relevance and likes the indicators of success.  Lutherans should beware but some Lutherans have decided that there is no future for a Lutheranism of the Divine Service and the sturdy hymns of old.  They have cast their lot not with the Church of the Lutheran Confessions but with a media savvy church where God's job is to make us feel better, achieve our dreams, and preserve every false illusion about life, sin, and death.


Archimandrite Gregory said...

i might add that some liturgical experimentation of a dubious nature has been done in the the name of Fr. Alexander. We call them the Schmemannizers. fortunately these experiments are dying out thanks to the younger clergy who were not mis trained like the folks just mentioned.

Steve said...

It’s a balancing act, to be sure. Not everyone is comfortable with a variety of worship styles. And indeed not all are equally profitable. Have you ever wondered why, with all of the German Lutheran liturgical and historical scholarship, there was never a rush towards reproducing uniformity of Catholic traditions amongst all the territorial Landeskirchen? They certainly know about early Lutheran practices including chasubles, housling cloths, choirs singing in Latin, etc. too. They know about the Prussian Union as well. Yet even today, there is a knowing, even tongue in cheek at times, diversity in worship, as when the Lutheran Church in W├╝rttemberg’s website warns its readers who may visit a Lutheran church in Bavaria to be prepared to be “irritated” by a service that more closely resembles a Roman Catholic Mass than the simpler service that they are used to at home. Apology XV teaches:

“The Gospel teaches that by faith we receive freely, for Christ’s sake, the remission of sins and are reconciled to God. The adversaries, on the other hand, appoint another mediator, namely, these traditions. On account of these they wish to acquire remission of sins; on account of these they wish to appease God’s wrath. But Christ clearly says, Matt. 15:9: In vain do they worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.

“For the honor is taken away from Christ when they teach that we are not justified gratuitously by faith, for Christ’s sake, but by such services; especially when they teach that such services are not only useful for justification, but are also necessary, as they hold above in Art. VII, where they condemn us for saying that unto true unity of the Church it is not necessary that rites instituted by men should everywhere be alike.

“But we cheerfully maintain the old traditions [as, the three high festivals, the observance of Sunday, and the like] made in the Church for the sake of usefulness and tranquillity; and we interpret them in a more moderate way, to the exclusion of the opinion which holds that they justify. And our enemies falsely accuse us of abolishing good ordinances and church-discipline. For we can truly declare that the public form of the churches is more becoming with us than with the adversaries (that the true worship of God is observed in our churches in a more Christian, honorable way].

“This topic concerning traditions contains many and difficult questions of controversy, and we have actually experienced that traditions are truly snares of consciences… Again their abrogation has its own evils and its own questions. [On the other hand, to teach absolute freedom has also its doubts and questions, because the common people need outward discipline and instruction.]”

“And nevertheless we teach that in these matters the use of liberty is to be so controlled that the inexperienced may not be offended, and, on account of the abuse of liberty, may not become more hostile to the true doctrine of the Gospel, or that without a reasonable cause nothing in customary rites be changed, but that, in order to cherish harmony, such old customs be observed as can be observed without sin or without great inconvenience.

“And in this very assembly we have shown sufficiently that for love’s sake we do not refuse to observe adiaphora with others, even though they should have some disadvantage; but we have judged that such public harmony as could indeed be produced without offense to consciences ought to be preferred to all other advantages.”

Anonymous said...

Rev. Alexander Schmemann was an extraordinary Russian Orthodox theologian. As such, the fact that he was devoted to the liturgy is not that surprising, since the liturgy holds a very different position in orthodoxy than it does in Lutheranism. What I find amazing and admirable about the man is that he was so devoted to the Gospel and the joy that it brings.
This is amazing because Russian Orthodoxy is much more Law oriented than Lutheranism. It promotes fear of God, and the uncertainty of salvation. I heard a Russian Orthodox priest say, “The certainty of salvation is just spiritual rapture.” On the other hand, here is what Schmemann wrote in his diary: 12 October 1976,
“The origin of “false religion” is the inability to be joyful, or rather – the rejection of joy. Meanwhile joy is so absolutely important, because it is without doubt the fruit of knowing the presence of God. It is impossible to know that God is, and not to have joy. And it is only in connection with this joy that awe of God, contrition and humility are proper and genuine and bear fruit. Apart from this joy these can easily become “demonic”, a perversion at the base of the most religious experience itself. The religion of fear. The religion of false humility. The religion of guilt, which says, “This is all temptation, it is all spiritual “rapture.” But how strong is this religion, not only in the world but within the Church! And for some reason, “religious” people are always suspicious of joy. The first, the most important, the source of everything is, “Let my soul rejoice in the Lord …” The fear of sin does not prevent one from sinning. Joy in the Lord does.”
Schmemann had many enemies, particularly among the conservatives, to the point that attempts were made to excommunicate him.
On 25 September 1980, he entered the following in his diary,
“H.L.Mencken: definition of Puritanism: ‘a haunting fear that someone somewhere may be happy...’”
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart